We are watching your parenting!

Proposed California Law Could Allow Government to Meddle More in Parenting

In California, a bill being introduced by State Senator (and pediatrician) Richard Pan, S.B.18, purports to ensure the rights of kids.

The problem is: In the process it may curtail the rights of parents to raise their kids as they see fit. That is the fear, anyway.

The rights that Pan lists are unquestionably great — the right of children to “appropriate, quality health care,” “social and emotional well-being,”  “appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood” (right on!), and “opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical, and social development.” But who decides what IS “optimal social development”? Who checks in on all California families to make sure it’s happening? How?

And is “good enough” NOT good enough when “optimal” is the law?

This bill reminds me of the one suspended for the moment in Scotland that would name a guardian to each child upon birth through age 18. This state-appointed “Named Person” would oversee the parents, and act as the child’s advocate. It’s as if all Scottish parents are presumed guilty of child abuse until proven innocent (18 years later).

But the government’s job is to jump in when kids are in danger, not  to hang out, watching, judging.

Maybe s.B. 18 will never become that intrusive (or even get passed!). But as my colleague Jacob Sullum explains on Reason.com:

The most contentious “rights” in Pan’s list are the ones that imply second-guessing of parental decisions and interference with family relationships…. Since it’s not clear what happens when a parent’s idea of a healthy environment, healthy attachments, or a child’s best interest conflicts with a legislator’s or a bureaucrat’s, you can start to see why the bill’s opponents call it “an attempt by power-hungry California legislators to further degrade the rights of parents,” argue that it “will eventually make the State the top-dog controlling force over all children in California,” warn that “it’s extremely problematic to allow a very small group of people to decide what constitutes ‘best’ for…millions of families,” or worry that Pan’s dubious, undefined rights “could easily be manipulated to make a case for confiscating your child.”

Yes, those are pretty much the worries, overblown and otherwise. Along with this one:

A legislature that takes this vacuous list of rights seriously would be more inclined to err on the side of intervention.

Yo, California: There is no ‘”optimal” way to raise kids, other than to love and feed them. Asking the government to regulate something this wide-ranging and subjective means parents have to watch their backs.

Instead of watching their kids. – L

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Welcome to California, parents. We are watching you! 

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29 Responses to Proposed California Law Could Allow Government to Meddle More in Parenting

  1. Ken Hagler January 12, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    I grew up in California and had lousy parents, but I still wouldn’t have wanted the State to meddle, because my parents couldn’t legally torture or murder me, and the State’s enforcers could. I’d rather take my chances with bad parents than with violent thugs who could murder me with impunity.

  2. Beanie January 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

    The problem with California laws is other states look to them as a standard. Pass it in California, and other states will think they have to have something similar to keep up.

  3. Backroads January 12, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

    Yes, I see the worry.

  4. John B. January 12, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    These laws sound well and good. Why not? They’re for the protection of children. But what people do not see is the collateral damage they will inflict. Instead of a one size fits all, it’s too bad we all can’t come to a happy median here and legislate a little common sense into these laws. But what is common sense to a reasonable person might be a “are you kidding me?” to an unreasonable person. Then the question is, who is reasonable and who is unreasonable? I know and everybody here knows but common sense doesn’t seem to be on the minds of these California law makers.

  5. M January 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    It always sounds good, until you realize someone who may not know crap about you and your family may decide you are wrong.

    “appropriate, quality health care,”

    Vaccinate or not? Decide to circ or not? Believe in natural medicines, or try to avoid using antibiotics? Someone other than yourself can decide you are a “bad parent”.

    “social and emotional well-being,”

    Have a shy kid? A child with a naturally dour nature? You are free range or a helicopter parent? Ever lose your temper? Yell? Uh-oh.

    “appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood”

    Want to homeschool, or send your child to an alternative school? Even a private school of a religious nature could be considered a poor education by some.

    With these loosely defined guidelines, any and all parents could and would be considered “bad parents” by someone. The person assigned to oversee you is trained to look for faults in your parenting. No one is perfect. There is no “perfect” way of raising kids. Every single parent fails somewhere at sometime, especially when based on someone else’s values and beliefs.

  6. Crystal January 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    Pan is an absolute power-hungry buffoon, the same one who thought it was a good idea to take away the rights of a California parent to decide what sort of healthcare their child receives. Most of my military friends fear getting stationed in California now because of him and his minions. If they can take away a basic right like that, what other rights are next? Clearly, the ones you demonstrate here.

  7. Ms D January 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    There us a reason they call California the land of fruits and nuts.

  8. James Pollock January 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

    Yes, the right of children to not be abused DOES conflict with the parents right to raise their kids as they see fit. It always has, and always will.

    “…argue that it ‘will eventually make the State the top-dog controlling force over all children in California,'”
    The state is already the top-dog controlling force over all children in California. As is the case in the other 49 states, as well. This has been true for a very long time.

    “…worry that Pan’s dubious, undefined rights ‘could easily be manipulated to make a case for confiscating your child.'”
    The standard for confiscating your child is “the best interests of the child”, or some variant depending on who wrote your state’s statutes. Considering how many people express worry that the government will confiscate their children FOR NO REASON AT ALL, I’m not sure how much weight to put on this worry.

    “A legislature that takes this vacuous list of rights seriously would be more inclined to err on the side of intervention.”
    The legislature’s limited in what it can do. If and when it takes children away from the parents, it then becomes liable for the upbringing of those children, which is fairly expensive and difficult to do. Personally, I’m of the opinion that is a feedback loop that will keep the legislature constrained fairly well, but it’s not foolproof. There is an obvious, glaring historical example: The Indian schools. Native American children were taken by force from their parents, and placed in boarding schools where they were forced to use English instead of their native language(s), “for their own good”. You can see traces of that same ethos at work among people who want to ban children from religious schools (liberals who want to require that children go to public school rather than private Christian schools, and conservative ones who are horrified to learn that American Muslim children can go to private Muslim schools).
    So, public schools require children to be vaccinated, and states have exerted their power to require that parents who prefer faith healing take their kids to medical professionals when they need it. I don’t have a problem with the state exercising its power to require these.

  9. Kirsten January 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

    I am actually somewhat optimistic that these proposed laws are bringing the sort of light fascism (trying not to sound too melodramatic here) to the surface and getting challenged. I.e., I say let the forces of repression and the forces of common sense have it out in the senates and courtrooms! As long as enough of us can fight these things we can set precedents for more freedom vs. less.

  10. Jana January 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm #

    Maybe, just maybe, the time has come not to have kids at all for good… And look at many Western countries – young people do not want to reproduce. Why should they? It costs so much money and there are so many restraints and hassle they just feel it is not worth it.

  11. Anna January 12, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

    “So, public schools require children to be vaccinated, and states have exerted their power to require that parents who prefer faith healing take their kids to medical professionals when they need it.”

    Unfortunately, it’s often not nearly this clear cut. How about parents who reject modern treatments for conditions where modern medicine doesn’t actually have a good answer? E.g., from my experience of my son’s severe eczema throughout his first few years (as well as the research I did), I learned that the best medicine has to offer for severe eczema is generally quite ineffective – in many cases even less effective than an average placebo effect. Children have also been removed from parents over disagreements about which doctor’s diagnosis is correct in ambiguous cases. Or how about the child who has already done several rounds of chemo, whose parents would like to forgo that last-ditch salvage chemotherapy that probably won’t work anyway and will make the child’s last months a torture? I’ve read about children being taken away in each of these kinds of cases.

  12. Raven January 12, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

    Why, on a blog focused on getting the right of children to an autonomous existence not subject to helicoptering, is the idea that children, and not just their parents, should have rights so very alarming?

  13. Brian January 12, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    I’m a big fan of your website – but you should check out Snopes before posting.
    http://www.snopes.com/california-bill-enables-government-to-seize-children/

  14. Ron Skurat January 12, 2017 at 6:07 pm #

    Here in CT an acquaintance had trouble with DPS over her housekeeping (!) – admittedly her step-daughter was a holy terror, who knew that screaming at full volume would allow her to get her way, so yes some psychiatric help and possibly even parenting classes might have helped.

    But since CPS intervention requires multiple documented issues, one of the major problems in the report was how messy her house was. Middle class lady making close to six figures (with possibly a housekeeper once a week) didn’t like the mess in the submariner’s house with three kids trying to live on 22K. The place was definitely not House Beautiful material, but it wasn’t a health hazard and there clearly was major classism in play.

    And regionalism too, since the Mom was from Georgia and middle class people here in lovely CT get everything they know about the south from Beverly Hillbillies, Duck Dynasty, and Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. The myopia has real effects on people, but ‘diversity training’ and ‘cultural sensitivity’ has little effect on smug white ladies convinced of the superiority of their ways of doing things.

  15. Steve January 12, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

    My prediction: If this becomes law, the number of kids helped by this law will outnumber the kids harmed by it, but just barely. By a ratio of about 60%-40%. And that’s a terrible ratio.

  16. Tom January 12, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    For 10 years, my mom was a social worker with the Geriatric Care Department in the city of Baltimore. She would tell stories of awful abuse and neglect of elderly people barely able to care for themselves. Stories about finding elderly people on the floor for multiple days laying in their own feces and with rat bites all over them. Her department existed to help the most dire cases.

    Apparently, that was sufficiently depressing for her. So, she spent 15 years with the Department of Emergency Foster Care. Again, horrific stories. Kids that were unfed, sexually abused, broken bones, left in their own feces, or left home alone in dangerous situations. And, again, my mom and her team worked the most dire cases for “the best interest of the child.”

    These efforts were made with great compassion. With a desire to give these people and children some minimum of care.

    These laws are put in place for a reason. To eliminate the worst cases of neglect and abuse. And, to put some general guidelines in place to help deal with the cases that are borderline in terms of parent/family rights. These government workers (such as my mom) aren’t black booted thugs. They’re not part of a conspiracy.

    I do citizen lobbying in Sacramento and have met Senator Pan a number times. He’s not a malicious person. He’s not conspiring to undermine parents. He’s using the best science available to help keep the larger population safe and healthy. There will always be objections. There will always be corner cases that don’t fit into existing laws. But, know that Senator Pan is making a best effort to help kids in dire circumstances.

    If you don’t like the laws being proposed, get active. Voice your (evidence backed) opinion. They actually do listen to you in Sacramento…

  17. JTW January 12, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    Sounds like a plan to have government mandated and dictated health insurance, public schooling (so a blanket ban on home schooling and private schools), and mandatory regular visits to, wait for it…, pediatricians for all children.

    IOW a plan to bolster not just his own power but his own business as well through the threat of imprisoning parents and taking away their children if said parents don’t submit.

  18. Vhowells January 13, 2017 at 12:50 am #

    If your child has a rare disorder or disease and you run afoul of a doctor with an ego the size of Texas, the doctor and hospital will get your parental rights removed. This already happens in many states.

  19. James Pollock January 13, 2017 at 1:01 am #

    “IOW a plan to bolster not just his own power but his own business as well through the threat of imprisoning parents and taking away their children if said parents don’t submit.”

    You sound more than a tiny bit paranoid. You’ve injected your own fears, and then reached a conclusion by assuming those fears are true. After all, what could “appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood” POSSIBLY mean but outlawing private education? And “opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical, and social development.” MUST mean that if you don’t sign your kid up for a soccer team one year, the social police will descend on you with a tactical team dropping from black helicopters to spirit your child away in the night.
    It couldn’t POSSIBLY mean that if you don’t ever let your child out of your sight, you’re denying them an opportunity for cognitive, physical, and social development. (Note the difference between having opportunities for these things vs. actually being guaranteed you’ll get them.
    As for building up his pediatric practice by requiring parents to bring their kids, in, that’s flat out horse-hockey, and should be readily identifiable as such with the application of just the tiniest bit of common sense. What is the ONE message that pediatricians universally preach? Why, it’s to get your kids vaccinated so that we can eradicate childhood diseases such as pertussis, measles, mumps, chickenpox, or meningitis. What is the result of getting all the kids vaccinated? Oh, yeah… they don’t get sick. Many Americans are insured via HMOs, including most children. In an HMO, the doctor gets paid the same whether patients come in to the doctor or stay home. This means that it is in the doctor’s advantage to keep you well, because if you are sick, you need lots of care which is expensive for the doctor to provide, whereas if they keep you well, they get to keep whatever money they don’t spend on treating your illness. The majority of a pediatrician’s time is spent on “well-baby” appointments.

    Don’t believe me? How about these guys?
    http://www.snopes.com/california-bill-enables-government-to-seize-children/

  20. James Pollock January 13, 2017 at 1:32 am #

    “Unfortunately, it’s often not nearly this clear cut. How about parents who…”

    I’m going to refer you back to what I wrote before. Many states have determined of late that while an adult has the right to decline medical treatment if they choose to do so, they do not have the right to deprive their children of necessary medical care because of their own personal or religious beliefs. So…

    I said “public schools require children to be vaccinated, and states have exerted their power to require that parents who prefer faith healing take their kids to medical professionals when they need it.”

    “How about parents who reject modern treatments for conditions where modern medicine doesn’t actually have a good answer?”
    If modern medicine doesn’t yet have a treatment for the child’s illness, then there’s nothing needed from medical professionals. Although that’s a decision that should be made in conjunction with one of those medical professionals, since they did all that training and education and stuff.

    “Children have also been removed from parents over disagreements about which doctor’s diagnosis is correct in ambiguous cases.”
    Children have been removed from parents because of disagreements between parents. When we develop a judge with omniscience, then we can talk about getting the correct judgment 100% of the time. Until then, there’s an error rate, which is consistent with being human.

    “Or how about the child who has already done several rounds of chemo, whose parents would like to forgo that last-ditch salvage chemotherapy that probably won’t work anyway and will make the child’s last months a torture?”
    Once again, that’s a decision that should be made with the best information available, and the medical professionals are the ones who have that information. Is this a “last-ditch” round of chemo? What are the odds of success, and how much discomfort is it likely to create? Is there anything that can be done medically to alleviate symptoms? These are the sorts of questions those parents should ask their doctor(s) before making a decision.

    “I’ve read about children being taken away in each of these kinds of cases.”
    I bet. Look on the Internet, and you can find all kinds of stories. Heck, some people will even admit that the state came and took away their kids because they just weren’t very good parents and were making lots of bad decisions regarding their kids. Heck, here’s another story… I had my kid taken away by a judge because my ex-wife flat-out lied about me in an ex-parte hearing (that means a hearing that I wasn’t invited to, and thus wasn’t allowed to present evidence showing that the accusations were untrue. That experience is a big part of what led me to law school.) When I WAS allowed to present evidence, that evidence showed that my daughter was better off with me than with my ex-wife… or the state… and winning that hearing led to the final determination in my favor when permanent custody was assigned.

    So, yes, there are cases where, through nobody’s fault, it appears that a child is a victim of child abuse when they are actually not. Yes, there are cases where, through nobody’s fault, it appears that a child is a victim of neglect when they are actually not. Yes, there are cases where a parent’s ideas of what treatment options are best might differ from one or more doctors’, and a court might give too much weight to the professional’s opinion. These are all regrettable. If you have ways to reduce these occurrences without leaving children helpless in ACTUAL cases of abuse, neglect, or willful medical mistreatment, share them. The medical community would love to have them.

  21. Buffy January 13, 2017 at 7:25 am #

    Thank goodness James has shown up, multiple times, to tell us in walls of text why Lenore’s wrong, we’re wrong, and he’s the only one with the knowledge to save us from ourselves.

    Lenore, do you truly not see how your comment section has become a vehicle for this guy’s harassment and bullying?

  22. Abigail January 13, 2017 at 9:15 am #

    Well, if it were to actually guarantee, as it says, my children have the right to an education that promotes self-sufficiency in adulthood, then that is decent. I’d like a little protection from local law-enforcement and busy bodies while my children progress to being self-sufficient adults.

    There’s nothing on the books that strips CA children of their rights. This legislation seems a bit superfluous.

  23. James Pollock January 13, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    The actual bill is available here:
    https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB18

    and everyone should read it. It’s not some 120-page monstrosity full of dense legalese… it’s a one-page document, with only two sections; there’s a little bit of legalese.

    What the bill actually does is contained in section 2, and has three parts:
    1) It sets a goal of 2022 for developing policy, 2) It sets the same goal for identifying what resources are needed, and 3) it sets that same goal for determining where those resources should come from. All three of these are limited by a “research-based” requirement, meaning that the state should pick something that’s been shown to work rather than selecting policy by ideology.

    Fans of this blog should take particular note of section 1(a)(2): The one that is in direct opposition to the scare campaign against the bill and its sponsor, Dr. Pan.

  24. JKP January 13, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    Buffy – Amen! If Lenore doesn’t want to moderate comments in any way, she should look into other commenting options that would minimize the blight that is James. Possibly allowing other commenters to upvote or downvote comments with unwanted comments automatically hidden. Or allowing readers to hide all posts from specific commenters themselves. Or only showing the first x words of a comment and then clicking on read more to read the rest. Or threading the comments so that replies to others are nested with the possibility to hide the thread, which would make it easier to skip over the back and forth James inevitably attempts with every comment. He’s definitely driving people away. I don’t read/comment here even half as often as I used to, and I also notice that many others whose comments I used to enjoy reading are also not commenting as often. It’s just too irritating when 50% of the comments are walls of text from James.

  25. BL January 13, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    @JKP
    “Buffy – Amen! If Lenore doesn’t want to moderate comments in any way, she should look into other commenting options that would minimize the blight that is James.”

    He puts his name on his posts, so just skip them.

    We don’t need to start sounding like a bunch of whiny college kids demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings.

  26. Havva January 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    Okay, I went and read the whole bill. It is a cute little goals statement that I think covers what most decent parents hope to provide for their kids (even though good people fail at those goals all the time). But it does exactly nothing. It allocates, no funding, it specifies no areas of study, no departments to do the work, or departments that need fixed. It lets the defenders of the bill dream big and imagine virtually any wonderful outcome they hope for (and to take credit for whatever comes from the effort of others). And by the exact same uselessness, it allows those with poor experience with abuse of power to imagine virtually anything overbearing and wrong coming from it. But all it is, is fuel for the imagination.

    This certainly is no Adoption and Safe Families Act. This isn’t people actually working together, identifying specific problems, working through the concerns of their fellow legislators, and establishing certain actions to be taken, with a variety of specific resources and mechanisms identified or provided, in the hopes of make the lives of children better. That, like it or not, had impact. It did not simply making healthy attachments and permanency a ‘right’, but required that the government provide individual children in state care with permanency hearings. It didn’t just say kids have a right to “parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest.” It established the conditions to terminate parental rights, and provided subsidies for adoption to provide abused children with permanent parents who act on their behalf.

    This bill does nothing one way or another for the care and protection of abused children, or to improve the educational opportunities of students attending public schools in the state.

    If Dr. Pan wants to positively impact the well being of children in California, I recommend he start by clearly identifying problems, I’m sure every state agency knows one, and this mail is full of them. Then move on to personally study or assign an agency and funding to study why the problem exists, and how to improve the situation. Then he can really do the hard work of addressing the concerns of his fellow legislators, and perhaps pass a bill that does something and take the credit (or the blame).

    Anything less is just an effort to take credit for good things without the risk, or work, that a good faith effort entails.

  27. Havva January 13, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    @JPK @BL,
    I’ve been thinking for a while that having the comments section arranged in nested threads would be highly useful. Not out of offense over anyone. I’m a bit of a wall of text offender myself. And I love a good in depth conversation full of analysis of the ideas commenters put out. My main reason is that in the posts that have a lot of meat to discuss, and/or get a lot of attention, it can get very difficult to follow a chain of thought. Of course we have our conventions to help out. But I think we all know that the more comments there are, the harder it is to follow.

    It would be great if it were simple to implement a commenting system with threads. But this system, whatever the irritations that may occur, is the most reliable I have encountered. Which has substantial value, especially considering Lenore doesn’t have an IT department.

  28. Papilio January 13, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    “I’ve been thinking for a while that having the comments section arranged in nested threads would be highly useful.”

    Same here, especially when reading comments in Disqus, for instance, or whenever James is particularly eh, generous with his time (it’s easy enough to skip his comments, but often a lot harder to also skip the comments replying to his). But I also appreciate there’s only so much Lenore can do.

    “Lenore doesn’t have an IT department”

    Didn’t we have an IT guy among the regulars? Oh.

  29. Puzzled January 13, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

    The discussion here seems to go along with what I’ve said for a while is the tension within the FreeRangeKids world – the rights of parents vs. the rights of children. Does a parent’s right to parent in keeping with their religious beliefs extend to denying their children life-saving medical treatment? Do children have rights worth protecting – i.e. that the state should step into the family to protect? Or are we simply about the right of parents to do as they wish with their children, unmolested from the outside? I tend to come down on the side of children having legitimate rights in need of protection. When we have cases of children not able to walk down the street, for instance, I don’t see the problem as “the parents wanted them to and didn’t get what they want,” but rather, that preventing that sort of thing prevents the children from exercising their rights and growing into mature citizens. Of course, though, I don’t think children have the right to move about unmolested without parental permission – we’re still both talking about children walking to the park with their parental permission, I’m just talking about why stopping them is bad.

    A story like this brings that kind of tension to the surface.